As I have done for the last few years, when products have been slightly delayed (THOU SHALT NOT KILL… EXCEPT & STREET TRASH on BLU), I figured I’d better post something today about DEMONS and DEMONS 2. They are “probably” going to be delayed slightly. Not going to beat around the bush here… the road to getting these two titles to completion has been a long, very difficult one (I’ll explain some of the situation below). The GOOD news is that the Blu-rays have been released to the replicator, so they are on their way to being done. As of today, we are still waiting for the (hopefully) very last check discs for DEMONS and DEMONS 2 on DVD, with some fixes. Once the DVD fixes have been implemented, and the encodes have been approved, they will also be shipped to the replicator and we’ll be on our way. Fingers crossed this will happen by the end of the week, so the delay won’t be too far off from our original October 29th street date listed on the DEMONS and DEMONS 2 order/product pages.
A lot of our fans appreciate our candor with our status updates both here, and on Facebook. They like to read about the ins and outs of mastering and getting insight into some of the things that go right and wrong with getting films released to video. I’m going to do this for you again today. Let’s just start first with DEMONS…
When we licensed DEMONS, we were given an HDCAM SR 4:4:4 master of the original negative scans, with the original Italian stereo track, as well as a mono track included on the master in English. The English track seemed to be the mono U.S. version and not the international stereo mix that included some different dubbing, dialogue and music cues, but the mono track was odd in that it wasn’t exactly the original mono track used theatrically in the states. This, according to the licensor, is the same thing given to the other companies that licensed the films for Blu-ray. They told us that the English stereo mix couldn’t be located anymore and that it seemed to be missing from the vault, so we got the mono track on the master. Where the original magnetic stereo audio masters ended up is anybody’s guess.
The picture given to us on the digital master was just an uncorrected negative scan with no color timings in place. I knew this was the case almost immediately when I saw that the previously released UK version didn’t have the day-for-night sequence properly timed at the beginning of the film. If you have the Arrow release, watch the shot of the girls walking up to the theatre at dusk (approx. 7:32), then look at the shot where the camera moves down the front of the theatre with people walking inside (on the Arrow disc, this is at approx. 8:06). The shot was filmed at a different time of day (more than likely a different day entirely) and doesn’t match the actual lighting of the whole sequence at all, but you can see the cinematographer put in the yellow lights to give the shot some mood when it would eventually be “corrected” for dusk to match the previous shots. Of course, this wasn’t the only problem. The entire master had flat imagery, the colors were drab and everything seemed so, for the lack of a better word, “uneven”… typical for a base correction scan from a negative. A negative consists of imagery for the film that is filmed over the course of many weeks or months, with certain shots within scenes being done out of sequence. The lighting rarely matches at all in a negative from scene to scene, or even shot to shot.
After discovering what was contained on the master delivered, we admittedly were a bit stunned. Sure, we could’ve just released the master as-is and put out a sub-par product, but that’s not what we wanted to do. DEMONS was a special film for us, and we wanted to use our best efforts to make our product the best it could be, even if we had to spend a fortune doing so. With the licensing fees paid just to secure the titles in North America (the world’s largest, and most expensive, home video market), and the amount of work we, in our hearts, knew we now had to do to fix these issues, we were seriously worried about running into “money pit” territory. The extra expenses we were now responsible for were going to be a bit startling but we were willing, for these two films, to jump right down that particular rabbit hole, feet first.
Color correcting DEMONS was fun and exciting, but it was a long process. The total time for color-correction came in at 40 hours, which is an incredibly long amount of time for a small company like us to spend on correction and this does not include time to ingest the data into a system, or render/output time. An unexpected expense, since we didn’t think we’d have to color time the film from scratch from the masters received. Little did I know, at the time, what ELSE was about to go wrong…
Once we dug deep into the DEMONS picture, we started to see things digitally wrong with the scans. One of the first anomalies I noticed was right at the beginning of the film, when Cheryl runs out of the train station. If you step through the film when she runs out, before she yells “Kathy!” (on the Arrow disc, this is at approx. 5:58), you’ll see something on Arrow’s disc where Cheryl’s face intersects with the head of the woman in the black coat. There’s a tiny flash on the faces there, and it’s a digital error. This doesn’t appear on other versions of DEMONS, so it’s not something printed into the original negative. There were others, and even a much bigger one on DEMONS 2, but I’ll get to that in a bit. [Note: For any of the Arrow disc images below, on a PC, you should be able to right-click on your mouse and “View Image” for a larger version.]
Another example: Look at the same outside shot of the theatre that wasn’t day-for-night corrected. If you watch the camera pan down the outside and look at the balcony to the left (on Arrow disc at approx. 8:08), you may see the white lit space, located between two of the balcony “pillars”, flashing briefly as it moves. The shot is incredibly washed out, so it’s hard to see on the Arrow disc, but it is there, and it’s not natural, as it doesn’t affect the lighting through any of the other pillars.
While these certainly aren’t the only things wrong with the DEMONS scan (I won’t sit here and list everything else, as it may take all day), after having some techs look at these issues, it seems they may have been caused when the Italian lab converted the original scans to the HDCAM masters for use on home video. Their down resolution algorithms may be to blame. So, on top of the color-correction issues, we had to send the picture back to a lab to repair and fix these other image anomalies. Yet another unexpected expense that would take more time and money. We went through the film, basically frame by frame and tried to correct these issues as we saw them. Because our master, after color correction, wasn’t as washed out as the previous Arrow release, many of the scan issues became MUCH more apparent and were easier to see and fix, thank goodness!
Once the picture was corrected and repaired to the best of our ability, it was time to move on to the audio. The Italian track included on the master, for the most part, was fine. There were some higher frequency issues, sync issues, etc. that we tightened up and fixed, but it was fairly usable without much fuss. Still, to go through the Italian track realistically took us around 8 hours from fixes to render. The mono track included, however, was a huge problem. First, it was missing the “drone” noise present on the mono track mix included on the U.S. release that occurs before the growl on the title card, and it had numerous sync issues, especially during the audio in the infamous Coca-Cola shots. Just a little background about this because many folks don’t realize it… The U.S. version of DEMONS strategically removed the direct shots of the Coca-Cola can in the film. Sure, there is a red can the kids in the car are snorting from but in the U.S., the Coke name and swirl logo were taken out so, effectively, the U.S. version of DEMONS is indeed missing footage. On the Arrow version of the film, to fix the fact that the shorter U.S. mono version of the audio was used, there was some editing done to the audio to “make it work” during these shots, including duplicating and looping certain sound effects and music. You can hear an example of this on the Arrow disc at approx. 45:57. The sniffing sounds and music are looped in before the guy actually sniffs (on the shot of the guy handing over the can) and then repeated again during the shot (you can hear Billy Idol sing “Hey” twice, and the music loop, within the fix). Interesting way to make it work, but I wanted ours to sound better, so I spent extra time and money to make these Coca-Cola can sequences more smooth and transparent… and it was a BITCH! Just two scenes that needed work took around four hours of time to smooth out and sync effectively.
Also, there were numerous sync issues throughout. Just one that immediately comes to mind is a shot during the “movie-within-the-movie” at approx. 18:42 on the Arrow release. Watch this scene carefully, and you’ll notice that the sound effect of the lid hitting the side of the crypt is late. Right after the guy says, “Something wrapped in cloth”, you see the lid settle up against the side of the stone crypt, but the sound of the lid hitting it is late (this is approx. 18:49). Many folks may think things like this are minor, but once I noticed it, I instructed our audio engineer to go back to the beginning of the film and start over, paying much more attention to sync (even though the film is post dubbed and sync is loose on all three soundtracks, I still wanted to fix things the best I could). This process of going in and checking sync took us two days of work JUST on the mono track of the film. There were a LOT of little things like this that needed fixing, so we did it. I wanted ours to be better.
Once the Italian track and mono track were fixed to my satisfaction, we now had to tackle the additional “International” stereo soundtrack, something that the Arrow release doesn’t have at all. Quick background on this… In the U.S., DEMONS was released in theatres in mono in the slightly shorter “Coca-Cola”-less version. In other countries of the world, the film was released in stereo, with slightly different mixing, alternate dialogue and some of the actors are dubbed completely differently. It’s an interesting alternate version of DEMONS that is well worth a listen. The audio is stereo but, upon further analysis, it actually seems like the U.S. mono version has much more thought put into the mix! There are more subtle sound effects and more creative mixing in the U.S. mono. While the inclusion of this stereo version required us to use an inferior optical track source, we felt it was important for our release, so that fans could hear the differences. We spent another two days syncing, EQing and fixing various optical anomalies present on the track and I am more than pleased with the results. I hope you will be, too.
With the three different versions of the audio for DEMONS (not including the commentary), I wanted to make sure the viewer could access the different subtitles independently. If you get the disc, it is really fun to select an audio track, and then have a subtitle track from a DIFFERENT audio track play along with the picture to see the differences. Many of the dialogue changes between the three versions are fun to discover. Besides the time it took to do four separate subtitle tracks (all the tracks had to be done AFTER all sync issues were fixed, for obvious reasons), we went through some revisions to fix minor errors that we found that took more time than expected. We had to also subtitle the mostly Italian language commentary.
At this point, I was getting worried about our authoring schedule to make our date. All the video and audio issues we discovered HAD to be fixed (I didn’t want to let the release go out in ANY state other than “the best we can make it”, so we made sure we fixed all we could before we sent everything to our authoring facility. Unfortunately, the project “gremlins” followed us into the authoring stage and an all-new set of issues reared their ugly head.
Once the Blus and DVDs started authoring, I went through COUNTLESS revisions with our authoring facility. Strange errors with no explanation as to how they occurred started appearing on discs… like subtitles mysterious “stopping” around Chapter 4 even though they were all present in the authoring system, dealing with the color red (so prominent in both DEMONS and DEMONS 2) was a headache in the 4:2:0 color space of the formats, and various fixes on the supplement featurettes that were unexpected.
As many of you know, DEMONS and DEMONS 2 are films that are VERY colorful, with a prominent use of blues and reds, bright yellows and dark shadows… all these things, of course, are a nightmare for a compressionist. An uncompressed version of a film like DEMONS or DEMONS 2 can be close to 2TB in size… when you figure that a Blu-ray only holds a maximum of approximately 50GB of data, and a DVD only holds 9GB, that’s a HUGE amount of compression needed from your original source files. The game you play with compression is you have to strike a good balance for the bit rate to go up when you need it, and down when you don’t, taking into consideration you have to encode the video and all included soundtracks within your bandwidth limits. For example, you CAN’T just say you are going to do a 40MB per second “constant” video rate for Blu-ray. It’s silly to say something like this unless, of course, you want a silent movie. The more things we fixed and the more check discs I received as the days ticked away, the MORE I started seeing other tiny minor issues that needed addressing… like moving some chapters to different locations, spelling issues and navigation things on the menus, etc. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire! Today, I think my authoring company wants to kill me. DEMONS and DEMONS 2 were really turning into a nightmare for everyone involved.
These two films were EXTREMELY tricky to get right. I had them perform at least four separate encodes for the Blu-ray and three (so far) for the DVD (and, as of this writing, we’re STILL working on the compression of the DVD). For the Blu-rays of DEMONS and DEMONS 2, my compressionist determined the settings after much experimentation, did final initial encodes, then took an extra WEEK going through the films scene-by-scene and adjusting the compression as the films progressed, maximizing the quality based on the action and colors within the scenes. It was also very important to me to maximize the space on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc to get as close to 50GB as possible. A single layer BD-25 was out of the question for me, especially with the additional soundtracks and featurettes/extras.
So with all this in mind, let’s move on to DEMONS 2 and I want you to realize that, throughout all the issues we were having with DEMONS, we were experiencing not only similar issues with DEMONS 2, but a whole set of other issues at the same time.
Now, DEMONS 2…
For DEMONS 2, the master was about the same. Just direct negative scans, with nary a bit of color correction applied, and weird digital errors. For an example of a digital error on DEMONS 2, whip out your Arrow version and head over to approx. one hour, 22 minutes when the demon boy tries getting through the door. Stepping through the shot, you’ll see this:
Finding out that the masters we licensed and paid for contained things like this was certainly frustrating but since we were seeing these things on the previously released versions from Arrow, as well as on our masters, we knew that if we got replacements, they’d probably be exactly the same. We just had to fix these things digitally and move on, so we did, as time was ticking away…
The biggest issue with the video portion of DEMONS 2 was the fact it was shot on the very controversial Kodak 5294 (T400) film stock. This film stock was notorious for being extremely problematic and was discontinued not long after it was introduced. The film stock produced images that were extremely dense, dark and very, very grainy. ALIENS was a film that utilized this same film stock and we all remember what that film looked like. The most recent Alien series Blu-ray boxed set utilizes a “fixed” and “restored” version of ALIENS that tried to alleviate the issues caused by the heavy grain structure of the 5294 stock. Take a look at it, and compare it to the original LaserDisc version of ALIENS (or even the first DVD) if you can… the difference is very apparent. The problem is that heavy grain reduction/noise reduction was used on the Blu-ray master of ALIENS and, while relatively well done, we didn’t have over $100K to do this to DEMONS 2 (I called the company that worked on ALIENS and asked how much it would cost), so the grain structure had to be left alone. The DEMONS 2 grain structure is heavy, for sure, but it is no fault of ours… it’s inherent in the negative.
Those more familiar with DEMONS 2 are also aware of the few brief shots in the film (maybe four or five) where the picture jumps and “vibrates” during the film. This issue is also in the original negative and we tried to fix it. The problem is that fixing the “vibrating” frames just caused additional errors and problems in other areas of the shots. We did send a sample scene to Lowry/Reliance and we tried using digital tools to see if we could do anything to minimize or alleviate the issue. The fixes were just as problematic, so we also had to leave these sections alone. DEMONS 2’s original negative had these issues printed in and it is frustrating. It will continue to be frustrating for all future versions of DEMONS 2. When we contacted DEMONS 2’s director of photography, Gianlorenzo Battaglia, with questions about the film itself and the film stock, he replied by telling us the entire film used Kodak 5294, with the exception of the very final scene of the film with the two actors outside in the morning. Of course, that shot is pretty ugly anyway because it contains optical printing for the credits, so the entire film was problematic.
Another issue we discovered with DEMONS 2 is a weird grain “freeze” that happens in a few places (honestly, we found examples of this phenomenon in DEMONS as well, but they are much harder to find). To see this strange phenomenon, check out the Arrow version at approx. 28:08, right after the apartment attack. It cuts to an outdoor night shot with a car driving in the distance. Look VERY carefully… you’ll notice that the grain structure stops moving in this shot, then starts moving again. It’s brief, but it happens and it is very strange. I was thinking this might be a film scanning error and I was actually pretty upset about it, but then I put in the old Anchor Bay DVD and went to check this sequence. Well, they must’ve noticed this happening, too, and instead of letting it play normally with the momentary freeze… they just froze the ENTIRE shot from beginning to end! There is no moving car and the shot is just a still (it’s a video post-production created still, too, as the grain completely stops in the shot until it cuts away) on the Anchor Bay release. When I discovered this, I was stunned. If you have the Anchor Bay DVD, go take a look at it. Crazy.
Working through the video and grain issues with this transfer was frustrating, difficult and took much more time than we ever imagined. Trying to maintain a good balance of color, without accentuating the grain structure too much, was quite a challenge. So much so, that we spend almost 55 hours in color correction with this film. The most I’ve EVER spent on any film in my career.
Once we finished the video, we moved onto the audio, which contained its own special surprise. Our master contained a stereo Italian track, and nothing else. Again, the licensor was stumped as to the location of the English tracks for this film, so they could not provide us with anything. We started with cleanup and sync on the Italian track which was going great, until we discovered, at around the sequence where the weightlifters try to bust out of the front door of the apartment complex, the Italian audio on the master changed over to mono for 52 seconds! Needless to say, I was extremely annoyed this happened and, checking the audio on the original master from the licensor showed that this particular section seemed like an editing “fix” after the fact. Someone in Italy just “patched” the audio with a mono section for almost a minute for some unknown reason! So I popped in the Arrow version to see what they had, only to discover that their entire release was mono from beginning to end, even on the English track! The film was mixed in stereo, so having a mono section right in the middle of the film was frustrating. So, our audio engineer/mixer/genius was able to utilize sections from our English stereo track along with pieces of the Italian track to make this small section into stereo. It took a couple additional hours of time, but he made it work. Did I mention this man is a genius?
Like DEMONS, we utilized a source for our stereo English version for DEMONS 2 that came from an inferior optical source, so we spent a few days cleaning it up, syncing, etc. DEMONS 2 is presented on our release in its true stereo form. We spent a lot of time doing audio work to make the experience the best it could be. The results are pretty darn good, and we hope you enjoy it.
So, through all this (did you actually read this whole thing??), we want to offer our sincere apologies to the fans. Working through the DEMONS and DEMONS 2 projects has been a tough one. One that took more time, money, and sanity than anyone ever expected… and it isn’t quite over yet. It is our goal at Synapse Films to get these done as close to the original street date as possible but that being said, we will NOT rush something just to get it out to market. I want these to be as right as they can be, and put out the best existing versions of DEMONS and DEMONS 2 to the fans. As stated earlier, the Blu-rays are done and the elements to create them have been shipped to the replicator. As of right now, we’re still waiting on the (hopefully) final DVDs for my final run throughs. If we get the DVDs this week and everything is corrected to my satisfaction, we should have the DVDs ready to go to the replicator no later than this coming Monday. As an added unannounced bonus, we actually received the original trailers for the two films, and we were able to get them transferred in HD. We have both the “international” trailer, as well as the U.S. trailer for our DEMONS release, as well as the trailer for DEMONS 2 in the supplements for DEMONS 2.
So there you have it! I’ve pretty much said all I can say about these projects without writing a full-fledged novel. I hope my little bit of insight into what goes into our day-to-day work at Synapse Films has been enlightening and entertaining for you. We’re working to get these two titles out as soon as possible. More info will be posted as soon as we get confirmation on a shipping date for the finished product. Soon. Very soon…